By Diana Margarit, PhD, lecturer in political science at Alexandru Ioan Cuza University, Romania
On Tuesday evening, 31 January 2017, the Romanian government led by Sorin Grindeanu, passed an emergency ordinance that modified the Criminal Code, especially on those matters related to corruption, abuse of power, fraud, conflict of interests, neglect of duty.
The reasons why the government rushed in passing this emergency decree and did not let the parliament adopt the law can only be guessed. Some members of the ruling political parties (the coalition formed by the Social-Democrat Party (PSD) and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) that won the elections in December 2016) are already in jail, while others are facing charges with criminal offenses and might soon be convicted.
One of these figures, the PSD leader Liviu Dragnea could not become prime minister because his name was also on the list of those corrupt politicians currently standing trial.
That same evening, soon after the government passed the ordinance, thousands of people spontaneously took the streets and protested it. Meanwhile, the ordinance was already adopted, even though it would legally produce effects in ten days. This ten-day-term not only confirms that the ordinance was not an immediate necessity, but it also proves that the government completely ignored the voice and the will of people in the streets who also manifested their disapproval a couple of weeks before its adoption.
The huge, popular mobilization against corruption and incompetent politicians has reached unprecedented proportions in the last 27 years since the fall of communism. The climax of these protests is expected to peak next Sunday, 5th February. `The only solution, another revolution`, one of the slogans used in other, previous protests, seems more appropriate in this context as this represents the largest social movement in post-communist Romania, and according to many voices, its mobilisation is comparable to the revolutionary one in December 1989.
Time is ticking away, and the social and political pressure is so thick you can cut it with a knife. The emergency ordinance will come into force on 11th February, at midnight. Concretely, there are several legal measures to be taken to abrogate it and to avoid its negative effects: 1) people’s mobilisation in the street can constrain the government to modify and even revoke it; 2) the Ombudsman can contest and invoke its unconstitutionality; 3) the Constitutional Court can declare the exception of unconstitutionality in any trial where the ordinance may apply.
Right now, as I am writing this analysis, the media are announcing that the Ombudsman has contested the constitutionality of the emergency ordinance. I am however sceptical that this decision will put an end to the political crisis and that people will cease to protest in the streets. The political leaders of the PSD are too determined to impose their will to step back so easily, while citizens are all too aware of their hypocrisy. It happened before, on other occasions such as Rosia Montana or Colectiv.
Romanian citizens will keep protesting until the moment when the ordinance will be abrogated. I have this feeling coming form every post on social media (Facebook) and especially from every new face I see in the streets. The city where I live and teach, Iasi, the biggest city on the eastern borders of the European Union, known for its relative civil apathy, faced an outburst of rage and discontent from almost 15 thousand people.
In Iasi, like all the Romanian cities, civil responsibility and active participation have replaced the passivity and political disgust reflected during the legislative elections that took place just two months ago. PSD and ALDE leaders, and the mainstream media they control, have tried on several occasions to discredit these recent popular protests by presenting them as antidemocratic and even illegitimate. Some politicians claim that their leading role in the government, and subsequently, each one of their political decisions – including the ordinance – are both democratic and legitimate because they won the elections (in the context of acute absenteeism, only 18% of the electorate voted in them), while the presence of people in the street is not.
In my opinion, this is not only a destructive resignification of core concepts such as democracy and legitimisation, but especially a frightening ignorance of what governing and ruling means. Despite the pressure exerted by civil society, embassies of Western democracies, EU leaders and institutions, and even a few PSD and ALDE members who resigned or declared themselves against the ordinance, the government proves the stubbornness of a dictatorship. Nevertheless, only hope, determination, cohesion and consistency, the true ingredients of an authentic civil society, can restore democracy. United, we will save Romania!
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